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Welcome to Fancy Food & Culinary Products' blog, your place to read reviews of the great fancy and gourmet products we find in the marketplace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Editor's Choice: Suan's Scotch Bonnet Pepper Jelly

I don't really like peppers. Not hot things, but the taste of peppers. Green, red, yellow, orange, jalapeno or anything else: not for me. But when we got Suan's Scotch Bonnet Pepper Jelly, I tried to change my tune.

Ms. Suan has studied the ways of the pepper. The way she talks about peppers and their properties reminds me, in a good way, of a guy I went on a blind date with who presented me with a conspiracy theory that hot peppers were sentient beings who were trying to take over the human race by simultaneously releasing endorphins into the system while eating a hole in the stomach with peppery acids. (I only went on one date with him). Suan's theories are less out there, for sure, and she has learned how to harness the mighty power of the pepper for good, not evil. While living in Jamaica she learned how to cook with the Scotch Bonnet Pepper, grown in every kitchen garden on the island and widely used throughout the Caribbean. The Scotch Bonnet is one of the hottest members of the habanera family, so I was skeptical.

I tried the recipe for Suan's Favorite Meatloaf, because if it can make good meatloaf, it can do anything. The recipe:
1 lb. lean ground beef,
¾ cup Old Fashion Rolled Oats,
1 medium onion chopped,
2-3 cloves garlic crushed,
1 egg,
½ cup milk,
1/3 cup grated Parmesan Cheese,
healthy dash of Worcestershire Sauce,
½ teaspoon salt,
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Mix all ingredients well, form into a loaf and place in baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, drain off grease and begin glazing with Scotch Bonnet Pepper Jelly Glaze every 15 minutes until meatloaf is done. Serve remaining sauce on side.

It was marvelous, adding taste and vest without too much heat. I highly recommend pepper jelly and I am looking forward to trying more of the recipes out!

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Editor's Choice: Bettasnax, Inc.





With multiple deadlines looming, snacks have taken on a new meaning the past couple of weeks. I find myself constantly in need of something on which to snack. Of course it has to taste good and, if it might healthy — that would be a bonus.

It turns out that Carol Bard. owner of Bettasnax, Inc. (bettasnax.com)  must have read my mind. She sent us her company’s biscotti recently and they became an office hit.

The bite-size thin biscotti are made with all-natural ingredients and have no added fat. They have a nice crunch, always a plus in snack, and a rich taste. The almonds are, of course, good for you.

The biscotti are good right out of the bag. I could also see packing them for lunch or enjoying with coffee. For a more continental treat, they could also be enjoyed with cheese, wine or gelato.

For retailers, they are the perfect size for sampling. The four-ounce size pouch could also  be part of a variety of gift baskets from breakfast, to snacks, to housewarming.

The company says that only the original flavor is available for now, but they have ideas for more “yummy” flavors to follow soon.

I, for one, can’t wait to sample them.

Barbara

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Editor's Choice — Virginia Cocktail Peanuts


For years, I didn’t eat peanuts. I don’t know what my aversion was; though, I do know that I missed out on enjoying this delightful delicacy as a child. I missed out on years of salty goodness and hearty protein. But, I’m now officially on the peanut bandwagon. And, this revelation came not a moment too soon because, last week we got a hearty helping of Virginia Cocktail Peanuts. They were downright delicious.

Virginia Cocktail Peanuts are hand-prepared in the fertile Virginia fields (as the name implies). Mary Vaden started the company in a bustling kitchen overlooking the Navesink River. A barn was her first warehouse. Virginia Cocktail Peanuts has come a long way since it’s humble beginnings. In fact, the brand is now sold nationally and internationally.

Part of its success can be attributed to the creative flavors Vaden created. The line includes everything from sweet treats (think Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Toffee varieties) to spicy alternatives (such as Jalapeno and Cajun). For consumers who love the salty nuts of their childhood, Sea Salt is a sure favorite. And, for those who just want to appreciate the taste of the nuts alone, Virginia Cocktail Peanuts offers an unsalted flavor.

I sampled the Cajun flavored nuts and greatly enjoyed them. The nuts have a hint of heat — just enough to keep you coming back for more. The flavoring wasn’t overwhelming, so samplers can still greatly appreciate the quality of the snack itself. These treats would be perfect in gift baskets. Retailers could also run specials on the nuts by creating clever trail mix recipes for them.

~Cathryn

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Editor's Choice: Sixth Course Chocolates

I do not claim to have a trained or sophisticated palate. I can only tell when things are really good, or really bad. Everything in the middle just kinda registers as not bad. Sixth Course has reinforced to me what really good tastes like.

When we received the lovely package of chocolates in the mail, I was first impressed by the variety of flavor combinations held within. Caramels with Rosemary, smoked salt, Ceylon, Chai tea, passion fruit and sage and brown butter were delightful to the eye as well as the taste buds.  They fairly exploded with exotic yet familiar flavors and melted on the tongue.

As is my wont, I went back for more. And there they were! Malt Chocolate Crunch, Cayenne Caramel, Hazelnut Praline, Honey and Fennel Pollen, Earl Grey and Coconut Rum chocolates in a box labeled "Chef's Choice." Again, the familiar with the exotic was enticing and intoxicating, but sadly, I had finally reached the end of the new flavors to try.

Sixth Course is the beautiful brain child of Bridget Labus and Gianina Serrano, who together have decades of experience in the Bay Area's finest kitchens and luxury five-star hotels. They use Guittard Chocolate Couverture, the freshest local dairy products and hand-selected organic herbs and wrap it all up in sustainable, recycled packaging. The result is, in their words, "the bestest, tastiest, dopest truffles you've ever tasted." I dare you not to make yummy noises. I failed miserably.

-Elizabeth Dugan


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Editor's Choice — Sugar Brook Farms


Cheese makes everything better. Need to spice up some plain macaroni — just add some melted cheese and you magically have a favored meal for adults and children alike. Add two slices of bread and some cheese and you have a sandwich. When your hamburger is a little dull, add cheese. When your wrap needs spicing up, add cheese. It solves all culinary problems. And, when Sugar Brook sent a wide variety of the company’s top cheese products, you can bet I was checking them out!

Sugar Brook Farms produces delicious cheese products from the company’s farm in Verona, WI. Their line includes everything from cheese balls to cold pack cheese, deli cakes, dessert balls and Chedda spreads. Our shipment included a variety of spreads including the award-winning CheddaBlu. The spread is a combination of Wisconsin Aged Cheddar and Wisconsin Blue Cheese. This gives it a strong, distinct flavor that would be perfect on a Buffalo Chicken sandwich.

The spread is synonymous with awards and won both the 2006 Best in Class and the 2008 2nd Place at the World Cheese Awards. And, while cheese is always a winner in my book — Sugar Brook’s CheddarBlu definitely stood out!

~Cathryn

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Editor's Choice: Nonni's Food Company



Like most people, I like a variety of snacks — sometimes they are healthy, sometimes not so much. But every once in a while, my five year old self takes over and the one thing she wants is a cookie or maybe two or three.

Cookies are associated with happy memories. Most of us remember the wonderful smell of fresh baked cookies coming from the kitchen. One of my favorite cookies was the biscotti my Italian grandmother used to make. I remember, besides steeped in tradition, the biscotti had just enough crunch, with a rich flavor.

Which brings me to the subject of this week’s editor’s choice. Lately my kid self and my “grown-up” self have been quite content and Nonni’s  (nonnisfoods.com) Thinaddictives is the reason why.

The cookies are like thin biscotti. They are full of real ingredients such as almonds, raisins, dried cranberries and other good things. They are individually packaged in packs of two, low fat with only 100 calories, so I can have that second cookie. The crunchy almonds and fruit combine for a rich, satisfying snack. I could also see them at the end of a meal with coffee.

My favorite is the Cranberry Almond. The other flavors are Cinnamon Raisin Almond, and for variety Pistachio Almond. I’ve tried all three and all are tasty. The two-pack makes them great to take along and perfect to keep in my desk drawer.

For retailers, I could see them promoted as a snack alternative and also alongside coffee and tea. The colorful packages could also be part of gift baskets.

But for all of us, they are a way to make your inner-kid very happy.

Barbara

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Editor's Choice — Jaillance Wines


Today’s editor’s choice is a little different. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly perusing websites to find the best recipes for the holiday season. And, believe it or not, I start looking in mid-October. While my mom prepares Thanksgiving meals and my aunt is the head chef during Christmas, my holiday of choice is New Year’s Eve. So, you can imagine the recipes I’m looking for fall mainly in the libation department.

Recently Jaillance Wines sent a few bottles of bubbly to our office (much to our glee). And, we were about to sample the delicious champagne. One of my biggest qualms with champagne is typically its sweetness. But, Jaillance wasn’t overly sweet or dry. The vintages we tasted were somewhere in the perfect median range. I was equally thrilled when the company forwarded a drink recipe that I’ll certainly be using during New Years’ parties to come. It’s listed below for your perusing (and drinking) pleasure. Include with any purchases of the wine during the holiday season. Your consumers will thank you!

Jaillance Jolly
A spin off of the classic Bellini, the Jaillance Jolly is a quick and easy party cocktail that will delight everyone during the holiday season. Jaillance’s Clairette de Die "The French Moscato Bubbly" compliments the fresh and fruity flavors of peach while adding lovely elderberry floral notes and delicate bubbles (at a much lower price than most other sparkling wines).
Ingredients:
• One-third glass of peach juice or pureed frozen peaches (thawed)
• Two-thirds glass of Jaillance Clairette de Die

Instructions:
1. Muddle one whole peach or pour peach juice into champagne flute
2. Tilt the glass diagonally and fill it with Jaillance Clairette de Die
3. Stir with a bar spoon or cocktail stirrer
4. Add your caramelized sugar garnish

For the caramelized sugar decoration:
Ingredients:
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 2 cups water
• 1 Tbsp oil or butter

Instructions:
1. Grease baking sheet thoroughly with oil or butter. Fill a sink or large bowl with cold water.
2. Dissolve 1 cup granulated sugar into 2 cups of water while stirring into a saucepan.
3. Raise the heat and allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil without stirring until golden brown.
4. Remove from the heat and dip the base of the saucepan into cold water for approximately three to five seconds.
5. Use a spoon to drizzle decorations on your well-greased baking sheet. The caramelized sugar will begin to thicken as it sets, so try to make the designs as quickly as possible.
6. Let cool. The decoration should slide easily from the baking sheet. 

~Cathryn

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Editor's Choice: Fever Tree Tonic Water

When someone hands you a product that is designed to be paired with vodka, I dare you not to do it. If you are going to, don't do it with this product. Don't just drink it up or pair it with rum or something. Because when Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic Water says it is designed to be paired with vodka, it means it.

If you are used to getting a G & T or a vodka and tonic in a bar, like an airport bar, where you are lucky the glasses are clean, or that they are even glass, then you have never really had a vodka tonic. This tonic water is a beautiful symphony of taste and balance. It could bring a bad vodka to a new level. It is the perfect pairing for a great vodka.

Fever-Tree's Naturally Light Tonic Water combines fruit sugars with citrus, aromatic botanicals and soft spring water to create a delicious, crisp taste balanced by the bitterness of natural quinine. With 45 fewer calories, it is an all-natural lower calorie tonic water. Most tonic water is a little sweet, in a cloying "hey! we don't really know what we are doing! but we know you don't like club soda, so here is something else..." kind of a way. This is not sweet. It is tangy, fresh and lovely. Also because of my deep and abiding Anglophilism, I can picture the cast of Downton Abbey or Hercule Poirot sipping this out on the veranda. And that appeals to me as well. 

On top of this beauty, the company produces: Ginger beer, ginger ale, tonic water (regular), soda water and bitter lemon tonic. All that I sampled were as superb as this and I cannot wait to get my hands on some more, introduce my family and friends to it and get them all liquored up, English-style. Tally ho!

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Editor's Choice: Lesley Stowe





Like I guess many office workers, more and more I find myself eating on the move and snacking throughout the day. Thanks to the kindness of a variety of companies and agencies finding something here usually isn’t a problem.

That’s how I came upon this week’s Editor’s Choice, Lesley Stowe (lesleystowe.com) Raincoast Crisps. Made in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the crisps in a variety of flavors have been a gourmet choice for years.

And now the company has introduced gluten-free crisps in flavors of Oat & Seed and Oat & Rosemary Raisin. I have to admit that for me bread (which usually contains gluten) is literally the staff of life. In addition, up until the 1990s I had no idea what gluten even was. I know it is a problem for some people and that other people are choosing to cut it out of their diet for other reasons. I'm not one of them, but I'm open to trying new things.

I wondered how the crisps would taste. A co-worker who wandered into our area in search of food answered that question. He declared the Oat & Seed crisps “pretty tasty” and was happy to also discover reading the box as he munched away that they are good for you. The crisps provide whole grains, fiber and calcium.

My choice for tasting later that day was the Oat & Rosemary Raisin. It was a tasty combination as the sweetness of the raisins combined with rosemary in a chewy good snack. I could see it with cream cheese, brie and other cheeses. The website also suggests melted chocolate — a delightful concept.

I also tried the Oat & Seed crisps. They had a more hearty taste, but again were a satisfying snack and could accept many topping choices.

For retailers, these crisps would be a welcome addition to a gluten-free section or even in a basket of gluten free products. And with the holidays coming, these crisps would be great to sample in a store as another good alternative for the upcoming gatherings.

Barbara

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Editor's Choice — Alchemy by Carla Hall


Like so many other people, I’m a huge fan of reality television. And, being a self-proclaimed foodie, cooking competitions are constantly on my DVR must-watch list. So, it should be no surprise that I’m an avid Top Chef fan. One of my favorite contestants was and is Carla Hall. This spunky DC-resident was known for her boisterous personality and her clean flavors. When I discovered Hall had created a food line, I was excited by the prospect of tasting her delicacies. And, just last week, we received Alchemy by Carla Hall cookies in the office. You’ve never seen me move as quickly as I did while diving for the Mexican Chocolate Chip variety.

While the flavoring in these petit fares borders on classic — you can clearly taste the quality ingredients used during preparation. During the show, Hall was a huge proponent of cooking with only the finest, freshest materials. So, within her cookies she uses strictly organic flour, sugar and eggs. By incorporating brown sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon — the sweet treats go from ordinary to flavorful and exciting. Moreover, their miniature size prevents you from feeling the inevitable guilt that typically accompanies eating sweets. Market these cookies as the perfect stocking stuffer during the holiday season.

Other flavors within the Alchemy line include: Black Forest Crinkle, Pecan Shortbread with Vanilla Salt, Goat Cheese and Dried Cranberries, Oatmeal with White Chocolate and Dried Cranberries and Almond Gingerbread Cherry Shortbread, to name a few. There’s one thing I’m certain of, Carla Hall lived up to her Top Chef reputation.

~Cathryn

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Editor's Choice: Fire & Flavor Ice Box Dill Pickling Seasoning

I don't can. It smacks of effort and I don't have any counter space. But my best friend does. So, when I went to visit her in her lovely Arlington, MA home, I brought some canning stuff along, because what else are two girls who have been besties for 20+ years going to do? She swore to me that she had the right stuff for pickles, but it turned out the cucumbers had other ideas and grew a fuzzy green winter coat. Ah well. We rolled with it and decided to make Dilly Beans instead, with the Fire & Flavor Crispy Icebox Dill spices for canning. It was a rousing success.

This little packet of spices needs you have on hand: FRESH dill (there is dried dill included), garlic cloves (we used the cheater garlic, already diced and in the jar), vinegar, water and of course the veggies you are pickling.  Luckily my friend had all this stuff in her home because we started our canning adventure 1/2 a bottle of wine in at 11 p.m. Replacing the cucumbers with fresh green beans from the local organic farm was the wild card. We had both green beans and white green beans (stay with me here) which made for very attractive jars of canned stuff, which is not something you can count on. Home-canned vegetables can look like a science experiment at times, though they usually taste delicious. These were both attractive AND tasty.

The spice packet included is flavorful and aromatic. As soon as we opened it and put it in the hot water and vinegar, we knew this was going to go well. We made two double pints instead of the four pints the package calls for. I didn't get to taste the dilly beans, myself but the next week, my nephews consumed both jars of dilly beans in 34.59 seconds, I am told, and they asked for more. No greater endorsement than that.

-Elizabeth Dugan



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Editor's Choice: Chuao Chocolatier



As I’ve mentioned before, over the last few years I’ve developed a real liking of dark chocolate. It started out slowly, but now I actually prefer it. Every once in a while, however, there’s that appeal of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is comfort food; it stirs up warm memories and brings contentment.

Speaking of comfort food, for good or for bad — one of my top comfort foods is bacon. It’s been a favorite since I was a kid. I remember we would buy it, cut from the slab at the local butcher shop. The taste was terrific. And so a great food love was born and has continued. 

So what if someone combined my favorite foods together? That’s just what Chuao Chocolatier (chuaochocolatier.com) has done. When the 2.8-ounce chocolate bar arrived in the office recently, I broke off a sample and left the rest for my colleagues. After three or four days of being polite, all bets were off and I squirreled away the bar in my desk drawer.

As I said, the bar brings you chocolate and bacon together. And, if that’s not enough, the company has added in a touch of maple syrup and bonfire smoked sea salt. You get a whole fiesta of flavors — the smooth, rich milk chocolate, bit of sweet and salty and then the great taste of crisp bacon. It’s a wonderful food treat that I have been enjoying the past few days.

I could see this chocolate bar in a variety of gift baskets —chocolate, of course, breakfast and housewarming or hostess gift come to mind. And, with the holidays coming up, it would be a fun stocking stuffer for a favorite gourmet.

Barbara

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Editor's Choice — LesserEvil Black & White Kettle Corn


My household is a snacking household. While I love to cook (and prepare dinner nightly), my husband and I always have an assortment of chips, crackers, dips and cookies to nosh on. So, he was thrilled when I trotted home one Monday evening with a large bag of LesserEvil Black and White Kettle Corn. Of all the snacks in the world, popcorn is my husband’s favorite. And, kettle corn reigns supreme. After devouring the bag, I was happy I hadn’t sampled it at my desk. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have made the journey all the way across town.

LesserEvil is a company that believes in snacking responsibly. Therefore, they’ve created a line of products that have remarkably high serving sizes with remarkably low calories. Now, you might say to yourself that this is an easy task when it comes to popcorn. After all, once the salt and the butter is removed, you have a snack that’s popped rather than fried. However, this becomes much more difficult when you throw in the additional caloric intake from chocolate (remember we had Black & White kettle corn) and the syrup (which transforms it from plain old popcorn). So, I was shocked by the tasty treat. First, I anticipated the chocolate covered corn to be sparse. However, there was an even — 50/50 distribution. Then, I assumed it would be light on syrup or salt (resulting in a treat that’s either overly savory or sweet depending on what’s missing). Neither was true. This was simply a small bag of evenly distributed, delicious kettle corn. A small bag that I wanted to eat every night! Retailers will be drawn to the company’s clever packing and convenient size, as well.

So, if you’re a house full of snackers and you’re looking to expand the snacking horizons, look no further. This healthy alternative is truly the lesser evil to fattening potato chips that spend a minute on your lips … and a lifetime on your hips!

~Cathryn 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Editor's Choice: Organic Valley American Cheese

Have I told you how much I love cheese? I feel like I must have mentioned it before. All cheese. I love the stinky blues that clear out the sinuses. I like a sharp sharp cheddar that bites you back. I like a creamy Port Salut. I love it all. Even American, the red-headed step child of the cheese world. But those processed cheese slices leave something to be desired. No longer must I struggle with this! Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, has launched a new flavor: Organic Valley American Cheese Singles—unprocessed, 100 percent real organic cheese slices, as opposed to “processed cheese food,” perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, lunches and snacks. Organic Valley is the only national brand to produce unprocessed, organic American Cheese Singles.

I am in love.

I found out this weekend that my nephews loathe the processed cheese that they are fed when they go to their friend's houses for lunch (along with the processed bread, fruit leather and sugar cereals. I am sure this does not endear them to the parent's of their friends but, what are you going to do? the kids know good food.) My nephew Max in particular, will point out to whatever adult is feeding him, "This isn't cheddar", or, "This is mild cheddar. I like sharp cheddar." The kid knows his cheese. I feel as though he would approve of the Organic Valley American Cheese, which is creamy and rich and tastes like a cheddar/colby mix. 

The beauty of American Cheese in general is it's gooey meltiness and how it is part of many kinds of American comfort foods. When I was a kid we put it on green beans, broccoli, Sloppy Joes, grilled cheese, burgers and hot dogs...basically anything that would stand still long enough to cover it in cheese. This is all that melty goodness without the processed flavor or bad-for-you chemicals. All the calcium and goodness with more flavor. Keep it coming, Organic Valley! Our love affair will last an eternity.

-Elizabeth Dugan



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Editor's Choice: Ponderosa Roasting Coffee Company



Whether it’s with breakfast, an afternoon break or especially at the end of nice meal, like many people, I enjoy a good cup of coffee. And recently, I’ve been enjoying some great-tasting coffee. It’s the Pretty in Pink’s Beyond the Ribbon Blend from Ponderosa Roasting Coffee Company (ponderosaroasting.com). A package of it arrived in the office and a colleague of mine was gracious enough to share it with me.

The morning I tried the coffee, I was greeted with a rich full taste, with what I thought was a taste of chocolate. It turned out I was right. I read later the coffee does have hints of chocolate. The coffee even blended smoothly when I added a bit of soymilk. On the weekend, it made a great ending to a meal.

But this coffee is more than a pretty face. Ponderosa Roasting believes in helping people through its selected blends. In this case, it’s the Pretty in Pink’s Beyond the Ribbon Blend. The Pretty in Pink Foundation’s mission is to provide financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients with quality, life-saving medical treatment regardless of their ability to pay. Ponderosa has pledged all dollar amounts over the cost of the coffee, bag, label and labor will go to the selected organization.

The coffee would also make a nice gift for someone or included as part of a gift basket. So there you have it, a coffee you can savor and feel good about buying on several levels.

Barbara

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Editor's Choice: DeBrand Chocolatier

While diamonds are beautiful, they're also rare. And, dogs are great. But they smell up your carpet. I contest that there can be only one girl's best friend and that is clearly chocolate. That's why there's a mad rush anytime we get it in the office. That's why you eat it during a break-up. And, that's why it puts a wide smile on your face after the bleakest of days. So, when we scored a stash of DeBrand Chocolatier's Tart Red Raspberry Tasting Bars, I did the noble thing. I hid them away in my desk drawer and only bothered to eat them when my co-workers weren't looking.

Let me tell you ... it was worth the deception. DeBrand uses only the finest chocolate from around the world. In these tasting bars, this high-quality chocolate was paired with chunks of red raspberries. The combination was sinfully delicious. So much so that after sampling it, you'll forget all about classic combinations (think chocolates and strawberries). This duo will dominate your palette. Moreover, the company labeled pieces of the candy with "bite," "nibble" or "chunk" so you won't overindulge. As if!

If you aren't into sweet and tangy, sample the company's other tasting bar flavors, including: White Chocolate, Hazelnut Coffee Crunch and Peanut Butter Brittle. A complete list of flavors and other products is available on the company website, debrand.com. But, ensure you order enough for everyone. Because every girl needs this kind of BFF!

~Cathryn

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Editor's Choice: Stonewall Salt and Pepper Crackers

The truth is everything tastes better with a little salt and pepper. We put this simple and elegant combination on essentially everything savory we eat, and sometimes sweet things as well. Heck, I add it to hot milk if I am not feeling well (just the tiniest bit of pepper, mind you). So the Salt & Pepper crackers from Stonewall Kitchen are adding a little bit of something good to crackers.

For me, crackers are just a conduit for cheese or something else tasty. I don't usually think about the crackers too much. They should be crunchy, not distractingly flavored and not stale. My requirements are fairly simple. I noticed, as I downed a little Port Salut the other night, that I was eating more crackers than cheese. Preposterous! But true. That crackers are so simple, so tasty and with just the right dash of salt and nice fresh pepper that they add that little kick to everything you slather across the top of them. I tested this theory with a sweeter cheese, a dip based in dill and even just a dash of cream cheese. Delicious.

Everything tastes better with a little salt and pepper and these hand-cut beauties are the perfect delivery system for that perfect combination.

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Editor's Choice: Frontera Foods

For me, one of the best parts of summer is the neighborhood farmer’s market. Besides being able to collect my stash of blueberries to freeze for the winter, you never know what you will discover. It was at last Saturday’s market, that I sampled this week’s Editor’s Choice.

As I stopped at my favorite bread vendor, I saw that he was sharing a table with a woman who was heating up and offering samples of salsa. I have to admit, though, I’ll sample most things, I’m kind of wimp when it comes to seasoning. But she said it wasn’t that spicy and I was feeling brave. I dipped a tortilla chip into the sample cup, scooped some of the salsa up and took a bite. That’s how I discovered the great taste of Frontera Foods’ (fronterafiesta.com) Gourmet Mexican Chunky Tomato Salsa.

The salsa has a rich roasted tomato flavor blended with cilantro and mild green chile. It is accented with roasted garlic — tomato and garlic, always a winning combination in my book. She had added onion, corn and kale from another vendor to the salsa and it created multiple layers of texture and flavor. It also had added nutritional value. And, as a bonus, the salsa is gluten-free. By the way, the delicious Handmade Tortilla Chips are also from Frontera. 

The salsa can also be used as a condiment on grilled burgers and on scrambled eggs. There are also recipes on the company’s website.

And for those braver than me, the Gourmet Mexican salsas, all from the kitchen of Chef Rick Bayless, are available in a variety of flavors and levels of heat. For retailers, they would be, of course, great for sampling or as part of International or party theme display.

Barbara

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Editor's Choice: Kettle Brand Potato Chips

I come from a long line of grazers. My mom should've invested in stock in Goldfish Crackers years ago. And, while I have a propensity for all things sweet — occasionally something salty and delicious will cross my path. In these rare instances, I take note. So, when we got a big box of Kettle Brand potato chips in all sorts of unique flavors, I was excited.

The first flavor to cross my desk was the Salsa with Mesquite. And, I must say, it's a favorite. The chips — like all in the Kettle Brand line — had just the right amount of crunch. It was enough to be enjoyable without totally annoying my coworkers. The Salsa with Mesquite flavoring wasn't overwhelming either. The mesquite gave it a barbeque like taste while still pairing seamlessly with the salsa essence. The chips would be perfect during the summer months at a picnic, while watching a big game or even just for a lazy afternoon snack where you don't have the energy to scurry up both chips and salsa.

Other unique flavors in the line included: Red Chili, Cheddar Beer and Jalapeno Jack. However, this line is a "limited batch." So, you should stock up quickly!

~Cathryn

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Editor's Choice: Dazbog Coffee

You wouldn't think of Russia as a place with great coffee, or at least I wouldn't. Vodka, borscht and gymnastics, definitely, but not coffee. It isn't the right temperature to grow the beans, for one. So when the Dazbog Svoboda blend showed up in the office, I was skeptical.Well, the catch is that it isn't made in Russia, just with a Russian tradition of flavor and fullness. That is something I can believe in.

The coffee is rich and powerful. I am not a coffee junkie. I need one really big cup every day, but I won't stand in line for it and my coffee maker was only $40, so not a huge investment. I usually buy whatever will give me the caffeine I need, and taste is secondary. I don't want to be so dependent on coffee, and it is my only caffeine source.

But, when I can get a good cup, I do appreciate it. Dazbog has my appreciation. 

Being a gourmet coffee roaster, Dazbog slow-roasts coffee daily in small customized batches. A full line of fine estate coffees is available, including varietals (single origin), special blends, decafs, flavors and an extensive line of organics, all only the best 100% Arabica coffee. Dazbog samples coffee from hundreds of farms around the world to select only the best estate and plantation beans.

I have tried this coffee in my $40 machine and at my mom's, because she has a fancy-coffee-drink-maker-thing (official name) and it has held up. It has a deep taste with no bitterness that is associated with burnt beans, and since my bag was pre-ground, it has maintained the flavor despite that grinding. I even bumped my intake up to two cups. 

Now, that is a dangerous cup of coffee.

-Elizabeth

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Editor's Choice: Mary's Gone Crackers




It will come as no surprise to some of my co-workers, but I’m still working my way through the bag of goodies I collected at this year’s Sweet & Snacks Expo. One of my recent finds is definitely a keeper. It’s Sticks & Twigs pretzels from Mary’s Gone Crackers (marysgonecrackers.com).

Being a pretzel fan, it was an obvious choice. It is the Sea Salt flavor, something I’ve grown to like, and that’s the first thing you taste. The pretzels delivered that great pretzel soft crunch. They provided a nice rich flavor — they are made from whole grains — and substantive feel. Good out of the package, the pretzels would make a welcomed choice served with dips.

And it turns out that these pretzels offer something more. They are gluten-free, a consideration for many people. They also offer a healthy alternative to a favorite snack for those of us who are trying to eat better. The pretzels are also available in Chipotle Tomato and Curry flavors.

For retailers, the pretzels would be great for sampling. They could also be used in snack baskets or as part of college care package.

As for me, they are another munchy, tasty snack that you don’t have to feel guilty about. That truly is a find.

Barbara

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Editor's Choice: Callie's Charleston Biscuits


Living in Chicago, there are things I consistently miss from my southern heritage. Certainly, a level of hospitality tops the list. However, more noticeably, I miss the food. There are some southern delicacies that even the best Yankee chef shouldn’t attempt. On every journey home, I find myself begging my parents to prepare grits, biscuits and gravy, and cornbread. But, one of my favorite childhood sandwiches that I miss in Chicago is the Pimento Cheese sandwich. That is, until I discovered Callie’s Charleston Biscuits’ pimento cheese spread. This tastes like my childhood summers.

Callie’s is kind enough to offer a regular and a Fiery Pimento Cheese. Both spreads use freshly shredded cheddar cheese hand-mixed with pimentos and a signature blend of savory spices. However, if you’re looking for a little kick, the Fiery spread is sure to put hair on your chest. While I’m a fan of incorporating the spreads onto a sandwich with mayo and ripe tomatoes — Pimento Cheese spread can accompany a variety of other dishes. Use it as a condiment on hamburgers or merely create a summer antipasta platter with Pimento Cheese at the center. Be sure to allow consumers to sample Callie’s spread in your store. They’ll quickly notice that this isn’t the run-of-the-mill grocery store variety. It’s flavorful without being too rich.

To order either of Callie’s pimento spread, you first have to order the signature biscuits. But, this shouldn’t be a problem as they both sell seamlessly together. It’s the perfect taste of the south for southerners far from home.

~Cathryn

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Editor's Choice: Seattle Chocolates

It might not be Christmas time, but Seattle Chocolate's Hot Buttered Rum Milk Chocolate Truffle bar is certainly getting me into the season. I love hot buttered rum (the best I have had is available seasonally at The Duke of Perth in Chicago) and this creamy, rich candy bar brings to mind the cold afternoons in front of the Duke's warm fire.

This flavor, like the hot drink, appears to also be seasonal, but it will be well worth the wait. There is a light and fluffy truffle chocolate with little pieces of caramelized candy bits in the bar that combine to melt in the mouth in a soothing, tasty way.

Seattle Chocolates has many fun flavors as well, if Hot Buttered Rum isn't your thing, including: Meltaway Mint, Rainer Chocolate Cherry and Birthday Cake Batter. I can't wait to try more of these fun flavors from Seattle Chocolates.

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Editor's Choice: Praim Group



As I walked through the Gourmet section of the 2012 Sweets & Snacks Expo last month, I experienced the proverbial blast from the past as a familiar brand name caught my eye. It was a chocolate bar labeled Bosco and that was definitely worth further investigation.

Bosco was this wonderful chocolate syrup from my childhood that moms stirred into a glass of milk to turn it into chocolate milk, which was definitely more appealing to me, and I bet to most kids. It was also great drizzled over ice cream.

I found out the syrup is still being made and the Praim Group (praimgroup.com) has a licensing agreement to offer the Bosco taste in a candy bar. I was more than happy to accept one to take home.

The 3.5-ounce candy bar is wrapped in fun, retro packaging. The milk chocolate itself is soft and smooth with a rich, delicious flavor. It is a treat for anyone, even if you have no memories of the original. 

I could, however, see the candy as a fun gift for someone who shares your memories. Or I could see retailers using it as an element in memories type of display or in a nostalgia gift basket. It would also be a fun take home gift at a themed birthday party.

But mostly, the Bosco candy bar is worthy of its name.

Barbara

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Editor's Choice: Sonoma Syrup

One thing many don’t know about me is that I’m an excellent baker … if I do say so myself. My grandmother taught me, when I was very young, that the secrets to above average baked goods are time and quality products. So, I was thrilled when Sonoma Syrup’s baking extracts arrived in our office. And, when I say thrilled, I mean the shrieking and jumping up and down variety.

The line includes five flavors (Vanilla Bean Extract, Lemon Extract, Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Extract Crush and Almond Extract). I was equally excited the company sent us samples of the Lemon Extract and the Almond Extract as I had the perfect recipes set aside for them (Lemon Sugar Cookies and Almond Biscotti).

Now, the thing to remember when sampling extracts is that they should be tasty without overpowering other flavors. They have to mix harmoniously. And, Sonoma Syrup’s variety did so wonderfully. The Almond Extract was sweet and nutty. It gave the biscotti a rich flavor profile that wasn’t overpowering.
The pure lemon extract is the finest quality available with the exquisite flavor and aroma of California lemons. The company’s website says it’s, “Handcrafted in small batches in the Northern California wine country with a special cold-process method to preserve the complex flavor bouquet.” This extract is more full-bodied and offers a simple way to improve the zesty flavor of Lemon Sugar Cookies.

As your promoting products such as extracts in your store, be sure to feature other baking supplies
alongside them. And, if you’re feeling really ambitious, create an assortment of cookies using the extract for consumers to taste. Offer the recipe alongside the bottle displays.

-Cathryn

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Editor's Choice: GoPicnic

I am an adult woman, I like Lunchables, and I am not ashamed. Well, that is a lie. I am ashamed. Lunchables are for kids, and I frankly feel a little ridiculous eating them, let alone buying them. But what I like about them is the crackers and cheese and meat part. It is like portable appetizers. Granted, neither the cheese nor the meat...nor the crackers are what I would call gourmet, but sometimes you just want a little snack, not a whole sandwich. So, it is more the concept that I enjoy than the actual product.

The GoPicnic ready-to-eat-meals are right up my alley! Cheese? Its there! Meats? There. Crackers? Not only there, but very good! And best of all? They do not need to be refrigerated. Each meal comes in a box with the aforementioned crackers, some kind of protein, some other kind of little snack like dried fruit and an individually wrapped almond Roca. Color me happy!

The first meal I tried was while I was waiting to pick my boyfriend up from work. He was running extremely late and the possibility of me getting some kind of tasty food in my belly before 8pm was dwindling. I had stashed the GoPicnic meal in my glove box, and opened it up while waiting. I only meant to eat the cheese. Just a little protein to tide me over, but it was so tasty that I polished off the turkey pepperoni, crackers, fruit and almond Roca in short time and felt satisfied and full without being overwhelmed by either carbs or salt. There is also a Sudoku puzzle in the box so I did that while I continued to wait for my boyfriend.

The GoPicnic meal is a delightful alternative to many of the meal-in-a-box choices on the market, being free of high fructose corn syrup, added MSG, and trans fats. Indeed, these little boxed treats would be perfect for parents on the go and to throw into a kid's backpack for lunch. They also come in vegetarian-friendly, classic PB & J and a dozen other varieties. No more lunchable for me!

-Elizabeth Dugan




















Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Editor's Choice: Braswell Food Company


Since I like the taste of peaches in anything from pies and cobblers to the good martinis I’ve had in Atlanta, I found treasure in the latest product care package to arrive in the office. Peach Vanilla dressing is one of the choices offered in a reusable carafe from Braswell Food Company (braswells.com).

A warm night last weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to try the product on a salad. The first taste, of course, is the rich, full flavor of the peaches blended with just the right amount of vanilla. The dressing livened up the greens and was a nice complement to the ham and chicken that I had added across the top. Then you taste just enough black pepper to get your attention.

The dressing also worked its taste magic drizzled across some green beans. I look forward to using it on snap peas and other good stuff that will be available at the neighborhood farmer’s market. 

The company’s website also suggests using the dressing as a finish on grilled chicken and pork so that may also be in the future.

And besides being tasty, the dressings are also eco-friendly. The nine-ounce carafe can be washed out and reused, along with its snap-on lid.

It’s a good taste of summer that will make everyone happy.

Barbara

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Editor's Choice - Paige Stationery

One thing gourmet retailers need to quickly realize is that the industry that’s virtually recession-proof is the wedding industry. When young women have been waiting all their lives for the perfect dress, cake and ceremony – those dreams can’t be squashed. However, in recent years, the industry has expanded to include a new subsection. The DiY bride who wants to have a clever hand in wedding preparations. This past week, at the National Stationery Show in New York’s Javits Center, I realized there are a number of products that would be perfect within your store while fitting both the wedding and the DiY bridal trend.

Forget the overwhelming assortment of cool trays and cupcake liners. The number one product I repeatedly saw were coasters as shower and wedding favors. Coasters make an excellent addition to your store for a number of reasons. They take up a limited amount of space. They need to frequently be replaced. And, they’re cheap enough to constitute an impulse purchase. 

Paige Stationery had some of the cutest coasters within the show. I was particularly fond of this letterpress variety that reads, “Eat, Drink and Be Married.” In fact, I was so fond of them, I forwarded the image to my sister-in-law (whose upcoming nuptials are in June 2013). Brides could buy these in bulk and bundle them for end-of-festivities favors. Or, those who prefer shopping off the register could use these coasters as a gift addition – alongside some of the couples favorite glass or barware. For those interested in hosting “Stock the Bar” showers, you could create a gift basket with an assortment of clever coasters, bar mixes and glass ware. The possibilities are endless! So, take it from me that this trend isn’t going anywhere. And, cash in on it while you can! 

~Cathryn

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Editor's Choice: Chicago Cupcakes

Brendan Bolger, owner of Chicago Cupcake graciously supplied our office with some delectable samples of his unique take on cupcakes for us to try and I assure you, it made the whole office happy. Chicago Cupcake is just a year or so old, but has made an impact on the burgeoning cupcake scene.

Bolger brought in a plethora of tasty flavors for sampling: red velvet, pumpkin, chocolate, chocolate chip, Rocky Road, Bananas Foster, turtle and red raspberry/chocolate. But there are at least a dozen others available, including the Spring special Lavender Jane. My favorite was the classic chocolate chip with white frosting, but the red raspberry ran a close second.

What makes Chicago Cupcake different is the density of the cake (it has a cheesecake-like consistency that never struggles to be moist), the crust and the frosting. All of the cupcakes have a flavor-appropriate crust, like pretzel or graham cracker, that help the dense and heavy cake stay together and adds another flavor and texture to the mix. The frosting is like nothing I have ever tried. Admittedly, I am not a frosting fan. I usually scrape it off to get to the cake. This was flavorful, light without being too fluffy, tasty without being too sweet. It really added a lot to the overall experience.

Not your average cupcake, the Chicago Cupcake is a gourmet adventure into dessert. Dense, moist, flavorful, you will need a fork to consume this treat, and it will leave you wanting another. Chicagoans, keep an eye out for the new cupcake truck that will be cruising around town this summer. You won't regret it!

- Elizabeth Dugan

Monday, May 7, 2012

Editor's Choice: Almondina/YZ Enterprises, Inc.


I blame it on my family. Growing up, a meal didn’t seem complete unless it ended with something sweet. I call it my dessert gene. Over the years, of course, I’ve tried to limit the cakes, cupcakes and other sweets of my youth. There’s still that wish, however, for a little something.

About two years ago, I discovered Almondina from YZ Enterprises, Inc. (almondina.com), a crisp little cookie with roasted almonds and sweet raisins. A couple of these cookies make a great ending to a meal.

Now the company has moved to the next level. A package arrived recently containing boxes of cookies with several new flavors. One of them is Dark Chocolate Dipped Almondina, cookies dipped in chocolate on one side — making them even more of a treat. That’s the one I chose to sample first. I was rewarded with smooth rich flavor of fine chocolate melding with that same crisp cookie — a perfect blend of textures and tastes.

The cookies are also available dipped in milk chocolate. They were another office hit and disappeared quickly. I also sampled the Yogurt Dipped Almondina Bran Treats with Cinnamon. The yogurt provides a creamy, lighter taste in contrast to the rich taste of the cookie. These crisps are also cholesterol free. Besides dessert, I could see them as a breakfast treat.

For retailers, I can see the 4.75-ounce boxes also included in gift baskets. For me, they are fine ways to serve my dessert gene.

Barbara

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Editor's Choice: Duchy Originals Lemon All Butter Shortbread Biscuits


Whenever I have a choice between salty and sweet, I always grasp desperately for the sweet treat. This runs the gamut from ice cream and cupcakes to popsicles. For the love of my waistline, I try to keep these most delectable goodies out of my pantry. But, my real weakness (and something I can’t resist buying or eating) is cookies. I might have replaced Sesame Street’s original Cookie Monster. I could eat cookies morning, noon and night. Therefore, unsurprisingly, I was drawn to Duchy Originals Shortbread Biscuits infused with lemon. While I’m not much of a tea drinker — preferring the caffeine kick coffee provides — these pretty and thin cookies were clearly meant to be served during an afternoon tea.

Duchy Originals was founded in 1992, by none other than the Royal Highness Prince Charles, himself. This is clearly a cookie with class!  The Lemon All Butter Shortbread “Biscuits” (as well as the other products in the line) incorporate only the finest ingredients to ensure great taste. The lemon flavored cookies include crystallized Sicilian lemon peel selected for its zesty citrus taste and British wheat flour grown from Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove. My favorite thing about the cookies are their crispness. Because they are so thin, it would be easy to eat multiple biscuits in one setting. Moreover, the lemon flavor isn’t overpowering. Rather than leaving me feeling as if I had eaten something tart, Duchy Originals Lemon All Butter Shortbread Biscuits felt as if I was eating something refreshing. The cookies would be a perfect addition to a gift basket composed of tea and tea accessories.

For more information about the line, visit duchyoriginals.com.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Editor's Choice: Better than Bouillon

Flavorful stock is the base for many recipes, from risotto to paella to soup. I used to use those little dried out squares that you had to dissolve in warm water and didn't taste like much more than salty sand. After trying Better than Bouillon from Superior Touch, I will never again use a tiny dried square to flavor savory dishes.

The Better than Bouillon comes in glass jars that need to be refrigerated, and contain a creamy colloid of reduced stock made from...chickens or beef or veggies! You just scoop out a serving and throw it into whatever you are making. It becomes part of the dish effortlessly, without needing to dissolve, and there is no need to add water, if you don't want to. Just the bouillon.

What makes them different from the chicken stock I make myself, when I can be bothered to slave over a hot chicken carcass for a few hours, is they have no fat. They are also lower in sodium with 1/3 less salt than ordinary bouillon. That lower sodium thing in a big deal in my house where everyone is watching their salt intake. This is a painless way to lower sodium intake at a base level, and we don't even miss it, because this bouillon is so flavorful.

My mom makes the best mashed potatoes in the world. One of her secrets was to throw a beef bouillon cube into the potatoes when they were boiling. Now that I have turned her onto this product, that comes in a dizzying variety of flavors (beef, chicken, au jus, vegetable, clam, turkey, mushroom, ham, fish, chili and lobster) she just puts a little Beef Bouillon in the potatoes and that's that. And they are even better and more tasty, as if that were possible. This product has kicked my cooking up to another level, and a healthier one at that.

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Editor's Choice: Kay's Naturals Inc.


I’m always on the hunt for a good snack, especially at the office, but of course, I’m also trying to eat a little healthier. So when the package from Kay’s Naturals Inc. (kaysnaturals.com) containing products made with soy protein arrived in the office, I was willing to take a look. I know soy is good for you. I use soy milk in my coffee. Besides April is National Soy Foods Month and it seemed like the perfect time to sample some product and report back my findings.

One item that caught my eye was the Protein Pretzel Sticks in Cinnamon Toast flavor. I like cinnamon French toast, so that looked promising. It turns out it was a good choice. The pretzels have a nice crunch to them, a valued asset to a satisfying snack and a tasty cinnamon toast — as promised — flavor.  They could be a good afternoon snack or be packed as part of a lunch.

On the healthy side, the 1.2-ounce bag offers eight percent of your daily calcium requirement. I also want to mention that the pretzels are gluten-free. I know that’s a consideration for some people and this gives them a pretzel alternative.

By the way, for those who like something more savory, Jalapeno Honey Mustard Pretzel Sticks are also available. Either choice would make a fine addition to a gift basket or as part of a healthy snacks display or promotion.

And, of course, for me, the pretzels are another good addition to the snack drawer.

Barbara 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Editor's Choice: Hammond's Candies Sweet & Spicy Cheese Dip


I have a confession; that’s not really a confession at all. It’s something that I think you must be completely abnormal if you disagree with. Now, don’t get me wrong. My parents taught me to be kind and open-minded. But, I’m not open-minded when it comes to cheese. I have a deep, thorough love for the product in all its many forms. In fact, if my husband and I are ever in an accident, it’s quite possible the only thing my grieving mourners will find in the refrigerator is a plethora of cheese products. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you, that while I was at the International Home & Housewares Show recently — I made every effort to score a variety of cheese products. And, I stumbled upon a gold mine. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Hammond’s Candies Sweet & Spicy Cheese Dip!

Hammond’s Candies is known for their tempting taffy and oversized lollipops. However, in recent history, it’s their line of delicious dips that have stolen the show and pulled me into their booth. You’ll likely remember this fascination from a year ago, when I sampled the company’s Pumpkin dip. Well, I’m happy to report that while that dip remains a favorite of mine — the Sweet & Spicy Cheese spread might have surpassed it.  The name of this dip thoroughly explains the ingredients. The dip is a mixture of sweet and spicy sauce and melted cheese. But, what amazes me is how harmoniously the two combine. I found myself scratching my head and wondering why we didn’t think of this sooner! While I originally sampled the dip with pretzels, I could see it used as a condiment on sandwiches. Or, perhaps in my wildest of fantasies, I imagined it as the dipping sauce for tasty chicken fingers. YUM!

Feel free to order the tempting treat yourself. The cost is remarkably reasonable for this small dip of heaven ($6.95 per jar). Just don’t report back to me if you don’t like it. There are some things even the most open-minded of people won’t understand!

~Cathryn

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Editor's Choice: Texas Toffee Almond Delight

I have a pretty serious sweet tooth, but generally avoid candy because of a certain...over-zealousness. Butterscotch, truffles, butter-mints and Jordan Almonds have all been eaten by me in quantities so vast as to make me sick for more than 24 hours, but without real regret. My stomach does not respond fast enough. I love these candies.

Toffee has always been a favorite of mine. If I was very well behaved in the grocery store, when I was a child, my mom would buy me a Skor or Heath bar and give me half there and half at home when I helped unloading the groceries. And then I would OD on the sugar. In hindsight, perhaps this was not the best reward and maybe set the pattern of my adult life and candy. Bygones!

Regardless, I was excited when I saw the bag of Texas Toffee Almond Delight emerge from the box at the office. I don't want to say I dove on it, and consumed a whole bag before my co-workers got to try any, dreamed about it that night, came back into the office and schemed about how I could get some more...but that is totally what happened. I'm sorry, co-workers. You snooze, you lose.

Wow, is this toffee good! Buttery and almost creamy while still being satisfyingly crunchy, it fills the mouth with a lovely caramel taste, tempered by the tasty almonds, so the sweetness isn't overwhelming.  Perhaps it is the obvious freshness of this candy that makes it so good. Skor  and Heath bars are all well and good, but Texas Toffee tastes as though it has just cooled enough to be put into the bag; as though your grandma just handed you a imperfectly jagged square and said, "Careful now, I just finished this batch!". Texas Toffee touts their candy as a holiday treat, but why limit yourself? Check out Texas Toffee and their other flavors as well: Pecan, Macadamia, Peanut and Toffee Sprinkles for ice cream!

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Editor's Choice: Lance


I’ve been a big fan of Lance’s (lance.com) products ever since I tasted the Toasty Crackers & Peanut Butter samples I picked up at last year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo. Since then, I’ve bought some cracker packets to keep in my desk drawer at work and always stash a couple in my carry-on bag when I travel. They make a great snack on the airplane or in the hotel room since they need no refrigeration.

While shopping recently, a display of the company’s Cracker Creations caught my attention. The seasoned crackers have a cream cheese filling and come in several flavors. I bought a box of the Garden Vegetable. Later that day I was looking for a snack and decided to try them.

The crackers have a savory taste from the combination of tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and herbs  baked into the cracker. They made a nice contrast with the lighter than expected smooth cream cheese spread. It was a fresh, satisfying taste, perfect for an afternoon snack. 

The crackers are all-natural, made with whole grain and two cracker sandwiches provide 6 percent of your daily calcium — so there’s less guilt. But mostly, they just taste good.

The box contains six individually sandwiches wrapped 2-in-a-pack, so everything stays fresh and crisp. And, of course, the packets can be slipped into a pocket, purse or travel bag.

The crackers are also available in Parmesan Herb.

Cracker Creations — an addition to the snack drawer and potential travel take-a-long.

Barbara 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Editor's Choice: The Great San Saba River Pecan Company


I am a good, Southern girl. And, like all good, Southern girls — I love pie. There’s something so special about ending a meal with something sweet and homemade. But, if like me you’re a worker bee, you might have difficulty finding time for the homemade portion of the equation. Luckily, The Great San Saba River Pecan Company has the perfect solution for such a dilemma. Why not create gourmet pies in a jar? This takes the muss and fuss out of the entire process without affecting the end result. I must say, I’m hooked!

Approximately 10,000 pecan trees grow in a park-like setting bounded by the San Saba River and located in the Hill Country of Central Texas. All of The Great San Saba River Pecan Company’s award-winning gourmet products are produced and shipped from facilities housed within the orchard. I was lucky enough to sample the pie in a jar at the International Home Housewares’ Show and was greatly surprise by the melody within the filling. It was sweet without being too sweet. And while the nuts were the highlight of the show, they didn’t overpower the rest of the dish either. To create this pie filling at home (or better yet, to pass out as samples within your store) just add eggs and butter. Customers will go crazy.

This would be a welcome addition to any baking gift basket. Regardless, it’s definitely made its entrance into my rotations of favored sweets.

~Cathryn

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Editor's Choice: Dizzy Pig Shakin' the Tree Rub

We can't get enough of the chicken in my house. So this week we decided to try Dizzy Pig's Shakin' the Tree Rub.

I got my fresh, whole chicken, coated it lightly in olive oil, shook on the whole sample package of Shakin' the Tree making sure to cover the outside of the chicken and get plenty of spice on the inside as well, popped one quartered onion, one quartered lemon, and one apple (my standard juicy chicken stuffing) into and around the bird and put it in the oven for an hour at 400 degrees.

Shakin' the Tree is a pretty simple rub; it is a basic lemon/pepper mix with a few other flavors thrown in. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by this mix. This is basically what  I use at home for baked chicken; lemon juice, pepper, salt, sprig of rosemary or whatever else I have in the fridge and Bob's your uncle.

Frankly, this rub was delicious. As I was cutting up the bird, I tasted a little piece of the skin (my favorite part) and I was so pleasantly surprised. It tasted familiar, not unlike the bird I usually make, but better! I kept nibbling on the skin and a little piece of juicy delicious meat as I separated wing and thigh and leg and breast from body. By the time I was done, I had nibbled so much I was almost full! My boyfriend felt the same; that this was a good bird, not so much different from what we usually sup on but like a deluxe version of it.

I can only imagine this rub and any others from Dizzy Pig would only be improved by more marinating time (which I did not give it much of) and adding it to things that are going on the grill. With 11 spices in their catalog, Dizzy Pig has something for every meat lovers palate.

-Elizabeth Dugan

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Editor's Choice: Happygoat


I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of caramels. It is always one of my last choices from a candy box assortment. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise recently when I became acquainted with the goat. Well, not a real goat, though they obviously are living somewhere.

I’m referring to the Happygoat (happygoatcaramel.com) Handmade Caramels that arrived in the office recently. The caramels are made with goat milk and that sounded interesting. Adding to that, one of the choices was Chocolate & Sea Salt.

One taste and you know as the package asks: what makes you happy? The caramel was soft and luxurious. It was accented with a touch of sea salt, which gave it a nice salt and sweet mixture. Blending with the dark chocolate, it was a full, rich flavor.

The Vanilla Bean caramel offered that same soft texture. It also had a true, rich flavor.
One of my co-workers tried one of the Coconut and Lime caramels and proclaimed that another tasty choice.

There was also some caramel sauce that disappeared quickly. It was later reported to be great on vanilla ice cream. I could also see it drizzled over bread pudding.

The caramels are packaged in 2-ounce packages, great to slip into a pocket or bag. They would also be perfect as part of a gift basket, or looking ahead, tucked into a Christmas stocking. There is also a  4-ounce size.

All in all, the goat represented in the charming drawing on the package made us very happy indeed.

Barbara